Networking: What Is It, Why Is It The Major Asset Of An MBA Program
Maria |
April 12, 2023

Networking is a crucial aspect of career development, whether you’re a student or a professional. In this episode of Business Casual, our hosts highlight the significance of networking in MBA programs and the business world. They explore the potential benefits of networking, including job opportunities and mentorship, and provide practical tips for effective networking. By being genuine and building relationships over time, attending events, and joining relevant professional organizations, you can expand your network of contacts and gain access to new ideas and perspectives.

Remember, networking is a long-term investment, and building strong relationships takes time and effort. So, start learning how to build meaningful connections by listening to Business Casual!

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.130] – John

Well, hello everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co hosts Caroline Diarte Edwards and Maria Wich-Villa. We want to talk about networking. You know the term most people consider the idea of a network to be important asset of an MBA experience. The idea here is that you go to a business school for a two year or even a one year experience and you bond with your classmates and even with Alums in a way that will benefit you throughout your life. And we’re not only talking about the professional benefits that may come from knowing people in companies that you may want to get involved with, or perhaps classmates who might be ultimate investors in an entrepreneurship venture that you start, or perhaps they could be customers, but even professionally, personally, actually. Because in a way, what networking really is is purposely developing relationships that are going to enrich your life. So rather than think of a network as merely a ladder to climb throughout your life, I think it’s more important to think of a network as building your community of friends, supporters, people who are going to basically back you throughout your life.

[00:01:32.740] – John

I wonder, Maria, what your concept of networking is and how it played out for you when you were at Harvard Business School.

[00:01:39.280] – Maria

Yeah, I think that networking, if it were purely about the social benefits, then we wouldn’t call it networking. I think there’s a specific name for networking because I do think that it fills, in some ways, a Pragmatic role in our lives. It’s not just about finding people who like the same movies we like and who enjoy talking about the same sort of fun things. Right? At the end of the day, business school is about business, and at the end of the day, business schools are looking for people who will go out and be successful in managerial careers, in business careers that can be defined pretty broadly, right? They can be running a business that is a nonprofit business, or they can be running a business that is associated with the government, for example. But at the end of the day, they’re looking for people who are going to go out and lead. And so I think the benefit of networking at a business school is to not just meet people whom you enjoy, but who can perhaps help you professionally, and perhaps one day you can help them professionally, right? I mean, if there’s one thing that hopefully, if you didn’t already know this, hopefully the past few years have taught us all this, that life is really unpredictable and there are all kinds of ups and downs.

[00:02:46.940] – Maria

And so your network is people who will celebrate your wins and help you maybe along the way to those wins, but they’ll also help you when the chips are down. So I don’t know, I think the networking aspect of business school is probably the most valuable aspect of it. And so I definitely think that if people are going to go to business school, one of the things they should prioritize definitely is the networking aspect.

[00:03:09.710] – John

Caroline, your take.

[00:03:11.440] – Caroline

Yeah, so it’s a big part of the learning experience when you go to business schools. So the academic experience is much more than the exchange between the faculty and the students. There’s a lot of peer to peer learning and that’s why business schools and admissions committees put so much effort into crafting a diverse group of students in the classroom because they rely so heavily on the diversity of perspectives that people bring. And a big part of the job of the faculty is to facilitate that discussion and to bring out those different perspectives. And students often joke that they actually learn more from each other than they learn from the faculty at the end of the day because people have such incredible collective experience from all over the world, from so many different walks of life, so many different professional backgrounds, that there is so much to learn from each other. So I think that’s a big part of why networking is so important in business school, because you just have a lot to learn from each other as well as broadening your business knowledge and building that really strong foundation that people are looking to gain when they’re going to business school.

[00:04:27.430] – Caroline

It also opens your eyes to new opportunities. And I think that’s a big part of a transformational experience that people get at business school. And that’s a big part of how people get exposed to different opportunities that they might not have otherwise considered. Right. It’s very true that people often have a big change of heart about their career goals during that two year period or that one year period when they’re at business school. They will have a change of heart about actually what it is that they want to dedicate their future career to. And that is often due to the discussions that they’ve had with classmates and who have exposed them to ideas and opportunities that they might not have even known about or considered. So I think that networking exchange adds a hugely important dimension to the richness of the learning experience at business school. And then, yes, those relationships then of course create a lot of value throughout the rest of your career. So it’s a wonderful personal network to have, right? You get a lot of personal benefits of having a great network of friends and often friends in a lot of wonderful different places who you could keep in touch with and go and visit and that’s personally enriching to have wonderful network of friends.

[00:05:56.850] – Caroline

But of course, a network of professional, like minded, professionally successful people who are a great group that you can tap into at any point in your life. And I think that’s a wonderful in a way, it kind of gives you a safety net. It means that you can perhaps take risks that you might not otherwise have taken. Because you know that there’s this group of people who you can tap into if things go wrong, right? Who, if the chips are down, there are people who will help you out, who will open doors. And you might not otherwise have had that team backing you up if you had been to business school. And that is something that stays with you for the rest of your life. So that’s hugely valuable and something that I think about as well when I think about networking and the value of business school. An interesting concept I remember learning about networking is that it’s often not your closest friends, whether it be at business school or just your closest friends in general, who are the most important in your career. It’s what they sort of term loose ties. It’s the loose ties who are often the people who really make a big change.

[00:07:16.120] – Caroline

And I’ve seen that in my life and in my husband’s career as well, that it’s not necessarily our ten best friends from my case in Seattle, his ten best friends from Stanford, who have been the people who have found that connected him with that company that then offered him that amazing job opportunity. It’s often not your closest friends who make that big difference. It’s a wider circle. And of course, you’ve got a much bigger, wider circle. And so that extended reach means that that broader group of people are a tremendous resource for you. And I’ve seen that in my life and in his life, that it’s often that extended group of people who may not be your best friends and you may not have had the opportunity to get super close to them, but you appreciate them. They appreciate you. They know enough about you to trust you, and thanks to circumstances and they just happen to know about the right opportunity at the right time, they connect you and things come together. I think that’s the wonderful thing about one of the wonderful things about going to business school is it gives you that broad network. That means that those type of opportunities are more likely to arise because you have that breadth and depth of network.

[00:08:39.750] – John

And I should say that one of the reasons we decided to talk about networking today is a recent Harvard Crimson op ed piece on toxic networking at Harvard Business School. This undergraduate student at Harvard interviewed a number of people at Harvard Business School, both current and past, and came to the conclusion that there are downsides to networking. And we’ll get into some of that in a moment. But one thing that they did mention is that it’s very common at Harvard Business School to get an email or a text message asking you out for coffee from someone who you never even met or even know, with the goal of networking that brings me to this question. How do you network? I mean, it may seem like a silly question. Do you go out for a beer with a person at a bar? Do you go on a travel trip with them? How do you actually network at Harvard Business School?

[00:09:41.040] – Maria

Maria I think there are three primary places. One is within the classroom, so especially that first year. One of the critiques that Harvard Business School often gets, and I understand why is that that first year curriculum is the core curriculum, and you are with a section of 89 other students, and you have every class with that section, and you don’t take any other classes, and there are no electives, and it’s a pretty rigid thing. But the upside of that is that you do get to know those 90 people pretty well during the course of that year. So even if these are people who would otherwise not network with you because you’re not useful to them per se, you do actually get to know them pretty well. The other major place for networking, and I think probably the most valuable one, is the student clubs. So that’s where you’re going to find people who have at least some sort of an interest similar to yours. It could be a very overt professional interest, such as a venture capital or media entertainment or real estate, or it could be even I made some good friends doing some volunteer work through a club that was helping out nonprofits when I was in business school.

[00:10:48.260] – Maria

And so those are people who, even though professionally I didn’t go into the nonprofit space, these were people who shared my values. And so I think that that’s probably the best place to do so. And then the third place is also just partying. Just socializing, I guess, would be the more diplomatic term to use. But there’s a lot of parties in business school, and if you go to them, that’s probably the best way to meet a lot of people very quickly. Of course, in that scenario, you’re not going to get to know people super well, but then perhaps afterwards you might meet up with them or get a coffee or what have you to get to know them better.

[00:11:23.130] – John

True. And at INSEAD, I know there are a lot of opportunities, even in Accelerated MBA program, to network. Caroline how do students at INSEAD network with each other?

[00:11:33.790] – Caroline

Yeah, it’s very similar. So you have your classroom, and so you will get to know the people in your section very well. You will work in various teams, so you’ll get to know those people extremely well. And then there are a lot of social events. There are different clubs and activities. I would say that just be open and don’t be too calculating about who you think it is that you need to get to know. Right. Because actually you don’t know who it is. Maybe there are certain people who if you know that you need to make a certain career change and they’ve worked in that before, then great, it makes sense to sit down with them and talk about it. But beyond that, you don’t necessarily know who is going to really be able to make a big impact on your life in the longer term and don’t go into the experience thinking about trying to rank who is more important than who else in your cohort. So I would encourage students and candidates to be open, to be humble, to just really make an effort to get to know people and not try to second guess who is going to be able to play a more important role.

[00:12:54.620] – Caroline

And quite frankly, you can’t anticipate who is going to be more successful in the longer term. And from the people that I was at school with at INSEAD, and certainly it’s the same for my husband from his GSB cohort, there are some surprises. The people who did really well.

[00:13:15.710] – John

Well, in fact, let me just put it out here, okay? Before the current Prime Minister took his post in Great Britain, the Guardian read a story which basically said, no one knows who Rishi, who is the current Prime Minister, was at Stanford. In other words, he was so low profile that no one remembered him. And this included the faculty. And lo and behold, now he is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, one of the great nations of our world. So that proves your .One person who was quoted in this Harvard Crimson article mentioned something that I think segues nicely to what Caroline just said about you don’t really know who’s going to be who on campus because people have different trajectories. Some people will be wildly successful, others only mildly so. But this one student who is actually a current PhD student at Harvard School said, there are times where I’ll be meeting someone and it becomes clear very quickly that I am not somebody. My parents are not somebody, so there’s not all that much they can gain from me. I think that’s a sad perspective to actually have because that person could be the future dean of a business school even at Harvard, for God’s sake, in the next quarter of a century, or could end up being the CEO of a company and should never be thinking that people don’t have something to gain from you.

[00:14:53.600] – John

Maria, are there other downsides to networking?

[00:14:56.820] – Maria

I don’t know that if I would call it a downside. Look, there’s always going to be some opportunistic people out there who are going to find out that, oh, Maria’s parents are public school teachers and boy, she’s not useful for me at all. But I do like to think that, no, I am not useful, friend, I’m not useful for you. But that having been said, I do think that a lot of people at business school are are fundamentally good people and I you know, you just want to get to know people. I don’t know, I think people who go to business school tend to have a lot of curiosity about the world, about the business world, and they tend to have a lot of curiosity about others. Obviously, if you’re networking with someone and they’re treating you like garbage, then yeah, okay, maybe don’t network. Maybe I guess that is a downside. But overall, I don’t see any downside whatsoever to getting to know people better. And as Caroline has said, you never know where those close ties or those loose ties are going to come in handy later on down the road. So while I’m sure there are opportunistic people everywhere, I will say that I don’t necessarily think that’s the majority of people in business school.

[00:16:07.320] – John

I would bet that there are people who are really exceptionally good at networking and you could tell when you’re on campus and a fellow student with them. And then there are people who are maybe not so good. Caroline, do you agree?

[00:16:20.810] – Caroline

Yeah, I mean, you get all types, right? And that’s also part of the diversity of the business school community. You’ve got people from a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different personalities. And so some people are, as you say, natural, networkers, and can really work the room. And some people, it doesn’t come so naturally to them and they have to make a bit more of an effort. But I think everyone knows that it’s really worth making an effort and that’s why they’re there. And so they do want to make an effort. Right. I think it’s very rare that someone goes to business school and doesn’t want to engage with their classmates.

[00:17:00.700] – John

The other thing I’ll say is this, and I think this is a fair thing to say. As you go through life, you’re going to meet a lot of different people. But the classmates that you’ll meet in an elite MBA program, man for man, woman for woman, are going to be a cut above many you’ll meet in the workplace. I mean, the fact that you’re all in the same boat at this time. Meaning starting an MBA program and going through it with them. In some cases, struggling through classes or trying to make an impact or trying to do good in an organization on campus. You’re all in this together, and it’s an unusual kind of melting pot for many, and a place where you’re going to really meet some incredible people with remarkable stories, many of whom will really be going somewhere and doing something meaningful with their lives. And I don’t think that there are many opportunities in your life even after business school. Sure, you could go to a top flight organization like a McKinsey or Goldman Sachs or Microsoft or Google, but I would bet person for person, you’re not going to meet the kind of incredible people you meet and are able to collide with in the elite MBA environment.

[00:18:19.850] – John

Maria, what do you think about that? Do you think that’s true or not true?

[00:18:23.920] – Maria

Yeah, I do think it’s true. I think business schools, when they are crafting a class, are looking for people of similar intelligence levels, similar ambitious ambition levels, similar histories of making an impact wherever they go. And so to the extent that you get into a business school program where a lot of the people are like you, if it’s a good fit, then yeah, you’re going to be surrounded by people who are just as committed to trying to make some sort of positive change in the world. Or perhaps they’re doing it through growing a company or through investing money or what have you. But yeah, I think that’s great. And I think one other thing to be said for networking is that networking is a skill that you’re going to need the rest of your life. So if you’re not comfortable with it going into business school, what a great place to learn networking as well, because once you get out into the real world afterwards, you’re going to need to network in your profession, right? Lots of professions are smaller. It’s a smaller world than we think. And so whatever your given profession might be, learning how to network, going to conferences, meeting other people that your company might partner with or acquire or do a joint venture with or what have you, that’s a skill that’s valuable for you in the long term anyway.

[00:19:35.770] – Maria

So anyone listening to this who might be a little pentative or hesitant about the networking aspect of business school, jump right in and get comfortable with it because it’s also going to help you after you graduate.

[00:19:46.670] – John

Yeah, that’s a really good point. Caroline, I wonder if you could offer some advice for some natural introverts who find themselves on a business school campus now having a network. What should they do? Because for many of them this could be a little more socially awkward or difficult than it would be for more outgoing people.

[00:20:07.970] – Caroline

Well, I think that because part of your learning experience will be working in teams and there’s a lot of teamwork involved in the MBA curriculum, I think that helps a lot because then you’re in a smaller group. So I think that is often a great context for the introverts to get to know people and begin to build their network. So I think that is a good starting point. And probably perhaps making an effort to join clubs and getting involved in structured events could be a great opportunity for those people who feel less comfortable about just going to a cocktail party and working their way around the room. If they are at an event that has a bit more structure, they’re part of a club working on teams, I think that can give them a context in which it’s easier to get to know people. But at business school you’re just so busy with so many different things that I think the networking just kind of happens naturally. And I don’t think that I haven’t observed people sort of struggling with it or feeling lonely a business school, because there are so many demands on your time and so many opportunities.

[00:21:31.390] – Caroline

And schools are also looking to attract and that’s part of the selection process, is that they are looking to select candidates who will really embrace those opportunities. And they are specifically looking for people who will come to the school, not just to sit in a classroom and learn as much as suck up as much knowledge as they can and land a great job and move on. They are looking specifically to recruit students who will embrace the broader experience and really take advantage of all those other opportunities. And they really have that in mind when they’re evaluating candidates. So that’s an important thing to keep in mind that when you present yourself as a candidate, they are looking for those qualities. Are you someone who’s going to be able to put yourself out there? But you don’t have to be it’s an important point, John, that you don’t have to be an extrovert. Right. But you have to have that willingness and openness to take advantage of those opportunities.

[00:22:42.130] – John

Maria, when you think about the benefits of an MBA education, where would you rank networking? Is it above the actual number one and tools you acquire in the class?

[00:22:53.350] – Maria

Sorry, number one? It’s number one. It’s number one. It’s number one for sure. I mean, what you learn in classes is frequently the different schools have different Pedagogies and they all teach slightly different things in slightly different ways, but a lot of the material is going to be pretty similar from school to school. I think the network, some of the things you learn in school you will carry with you for years into the future, but it’s nothing compared to the network that you get from having spent two years surrounded by like minded or again, you might not all have identical interests, but you do have identical drive. And so I think that does I don’t know, I think for the long term, that’s been far more beneficial than the Cranberry case from Operations or some of those other cases that stick with you for years in the future personally.

[00:23:44.890] – John

Caroline, do you put networking that high in your list of benefits of an MBA education?

[00:23:50.650] – Caroline

In the longer term, I think that the network and having that group of alumni that you’re connected with is the biggest benefit of having an MBA. The knowledge that you gain, I think, really pays dividends in the first five to ten years post MBA. But after that, in your career, you’re probably building off your professional experience rather than necessarily something that you learned in the HBS or the INSEAD or the London Business School classroom. But what you are relying on continually and you may come back to repeatedly is your network. So I think that is the aspect of the program that really continues to pay dividends.

[00:24:36.340] – John

Although, if I recall this correctly, I think that your husband a Stanford MBA graduate. When the two of you were moving from India to Silicon Valley, he was able to make those connections at Stanford more than ten years earlier count for your relocation and making it smoother, easier, and frankly, more successful than maybe it otherwise could have been. Am I right?

[00:25:04.910] – Caroline

Yes. Moving back to the Bay Area was definitely very easy, given that he had studied at Stanford and most of his or large chunk of his classmates stayed here. And so they were delighted that he was planning to move back, and they really helped with that process. So, yeah, that was definitely a huge benefit. Something to add is that, as you said, we lived in India, we’ve lived in other different countries. And I think if you think about your network and the network you’re going to build when you go to business school, think about the composition of that network and where that network is going to be. Because when we were moving around in different countries, actually, my husband Arabica drew much more on my INSEAD network than his Stanford network because INSEAD has a tremendous network all around the globe, right. So in a lot of different countries, there’s a really substantial MBA alumni network. And that’s not so much the case for Stanford GSB because it’s a much smaller school and the graduates tend to stay in the US. And even largely concentrated in the Bay Area. But of course, here in Silicon Valley, there’s nothing like having a Stanford GSB network, right.

[00:26:16.570] – Caroline

That’s the best network that you can have here. So I would encourage candidates to think carefully about which network is the best fit for them in the longer term, given their career aspirations and where they see themselves being in the longer term.

[00:26:31.960] – John

Yeah. And back on the Harvard Crimson Oped piece. One of the things that this author complains about is the issue of exclusivity and basically argues that networking on some level is nothing more than a club that defines who’s in and who’s not allowed in, which I will call BS on. Frankly. It’s absolutely essential that you make these connections and you benefit from them. And after all, you go to Harvard Business School. You go to INSEAD London Business School. Columbia. Stanford. Yeah. The brand makes a difference. It makes a difference of who your classmates are and where they’re going to go in life. It’s hardly an exclusive club that disallows people. Right, Maria?

[00:27:24.200] – Maria

I mean, I think part of it is that you have to go and make it your club or find the pockets within the school where you find people who are like minded. And as Caroline mentioned earlier, I think this is why the schools are looking for people. They’re not just looking for brains and they’re not just looking for professional accomplishments. They are also looking for people who have a history of giving back to the communities that they’re a part of. Whether it’s an alumni community, whether it’s a campus community, whether it’s just through general community service, at least seeing that there are people who have a sense of giving back to others, because then that bodes well for this person. Giving back to the alumni community and giving back to the community while they’re on campus. And so it’s an exclusive club, but if you are not from an exclusive background and you are given a seat at one of these schools, this is your opportunity to try to become a part of that exclusive club. And it’s on you to figure out your own way and your own path forward for doing that.

[00:28:24.770] – John

Really good point. And again, this is something that you can learn, practice, experience in a business school environment. It’s something that you can use throughout your life to great advantage. And it’s something that when you enter a business school, even before you enter, and you join the Facebook groups of people who are about to enter the given class that you’ve been enrolled in, the networking begins right before you even set foot on campus, and it’s essential to you. All right, I think we covered networking pretty good. Maria and Caroline, thank you so much. And for all of you out there, this is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to our weekly podcast, Business Casual.

Networking: What Is It, Why Is It The Major Asset Of An MBA Program
Maria |
April 12, 2023


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